So, you’ve brought a cuddly cat or precious pup home. Exciting news! Now all you have to do is figure out what to feed it. Seems like it should be easy, and maybe at one time it was. But these days, different fad pet diets seem to pop up every few weeks, with strong opinions on all sides about which is wrong and which is right. What’s a new pet owner to do?
Here’s the problem: It’s one thing to experiment with your own diet — low-carb, low-sugar, vegetarian, paleo … whatever floats your boat. However, your pets have no control (other than turning their nose up at their food bowl) over what you give them, so it’s especially important that you understand what’s good for them.
If you do decide to swap out your pet’s normal food, keep a close eye out for digestion changes, fatigue, and dehydration. If it was a child or other family member, they could speak up, but pet owners need to pay more attention to detail to determine whether a switch in their pet’s diet may be harming them.
Your vet is your best ally here. Since they know your pet personally, as well as any special requirements for their age, species, and recommended weight, they will be able to guide you to the right decision. Here are a few of the most popular fad pet diets right now; ask your vet if you’re considering one of these options.
The Raw-Food Diet
What they eat: One of the biggest trends in pet diets is the raw-food diet, which is exactly what it sounds like: Your pet eats raw meat, veggies, fruits, and eggs broken down with a food processor (raw food isn’t as easy to digest as cooked food). Off-limit foods include corn, wheat, and soy.
Why they do it: It comes from the same line of thought that processed food is bad for humans, so it must be for pets too. The raw-food diet is supposed to improve digestion, help pets manage their weight better, and improve skin, coat, and teeth. In 2018, an estimated 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the U.S. were overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
What the concerns are: Your pet may not get all the nutrients they need — such as vitamins, minerals, carbs, proteins, and fats — on a raw-food diet. Make sure your pet is meeting all those requirements. Health and safety are other major concerns, for both pets and humans. Don’t forget to wipe down any surfaces that raw meat touches to avoid members of your household getting sick, and check this list of which fruits and vegetables are acceptable for pets.
Grain-Free and Gluten-Free Pet Diets
What they eat: Gluten-free diets prohibit wheat, barley, and rye. The grain-free diet bans grains altogether. However, you may still be able to pick up kibble at your local pet store. Several brands are now offering grain-free and gluten-free options.
Why they do it: Some pet owners are inclined to have their pet go gluten-free because wheat can be contaminated, and worse, linked to aflatoxins, a carcinogen. Some go whole-hog on a grain-free diet out of a habit of mimicking their own food choices when feeding their pets.
What the concerns are: Since grain-free pet food has few to no carbs, it’s very protein-rich. That can be great for dogs of bigger sizes with higher activity levels, but too much protein in a pet’s diet can hurt their kidneys. Other extremely serious concerns include the connection between a grain-free diet and the canine heart disease dilated cardiomyopathy. More than 90% of cases of the disease were linked to grain-free pet food.
Vegan and Vegetarian Pet Diets
What they eat: Did you know your pet can go veg too? Vegan pets don’t use or eat any animal products (including eggs, dairy, and honey), while vegetarian dogs can eat anything except for meat.
Why they do it: Vegan and vegetarian pet diets have taken off, partly because their human owners are becoming more animal-friendly. There’s also increasing concern among consumers about the quality of meat that goes into pet food, according to PETA. It’s possible that vegan and vegetarian pets may live longer — one of the longest-living dogs was vegan! And, of course, they are more environmentally friendly.
What the concerns are: The only concern is whether your pet is getting all the nutrients they need. While vegan pet kibble has hit the market, be sure to read labels and see if your pet is getting enough vitamin D, calcium, and protein. You may need to get supplements of taurine and L-carnitine for dogs, which are necessary amino acids that are found in most meats. For cats, look into vitamin A supplements in addition to taurine, since cats do not produce it on their own.
Hopefully this helps introduce you to a few of the trends out there. Before you take action on any change in diet for your pet, make sure to talk through any questions you have with your vet.